State Health Commissioner: Time to Stop "Silent Epidemic"

ALBANY, March 19, 2007 – Acting State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today announced a major conference on hepatitis C, a disease that has infected as many as 5 million Americans – nearly three times the number of individuals infected with HIV/AIDS.

The Department will sponsor Hepatitis C – Breaking the Silence on the Epidemic on March 20 and 21 at the New York Academy of Medicine.

The conference will provide up-to-date information on hepatitis C epidemiology, diagnosis, management, treatment and prevention, to assist health and human service providers in offering the most effective care to persons infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV).

"Hepatitis C is a major public health problem, infecting between 4 and 5 million Americans and responsible for up to 60 percent of all liver disease," said Dr. Daines. "Most people infected with HCV have never been diagnosed and may not know that they are infected. In addition, one-third of persons living with HIV/AIDS are co-infected with HCV and complications from liver disease are emerging as the leading cause of death among people with AIDS."

HCV currently causes about 10,000 deaths per year nationally and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that number will double by 2020 without increased resources for counseling, testing and medical referral services. Hepatitis C is a bloodborne pathogen most frequently caused by intravenous drug use through the sharing of syringes and other drug paraphernalia.

The conference is being co-sponsored by the Medical Society of the State of New York, the New York/New Jersey AIDS Education and Training Centers, the New York State Nurses Association, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Latino Organization for Liver Awareness.

"We are pleased to give our full support to this conference, the only one of its kind in the State targeting HCV," said Eric Rude of the Hepatitis C Program at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "New York City bears an overwhelming burden of HCV infection among its inhabitants and our health care providers rely on this annual event as an important source of current HCV information, and it also gives us a chance to share knowledge and resources."

"The New York/New Jersey AETC supports this statewide hepatitis C conference as an important collaboration with the New York State Department of Health to help clinicians treat, manage, diagnose and counsel individuals with HCV co-infection and to help prevent high-risk behaviors that may lead to further transmission," said Abbie Gallucci of New York/New Jersey AIDS Education and Training Centers.

The statewide hepatitis C conference is just one way the Health Department has been addressing the issues associated with hepatitis C. Over the past five years, the Department has been building the infrastructure needed to address this growing epidemic. In 2003, DOH saw the need for a comprehensive, collaborative and organized approach by partners across New York to address the public health problems associated with not only hepatitis C, but hepatitis A and B, through the development of a viral hepatitis strategic plan.

Since that time, the Department has been involved in a number of initiatives to eliminate new hepatitis C infections and improve the quality of life of those chronically infected with hepatitis C. Some of these initiatives include: the development of clinical guidelines for the medical management of hepatitis C; increasing access to hepatitis C services by integrating hepatitis C services into existing public health programs such as STD clinics, harm reduction/ syringe exchange programs, HIV counseling and testing sites, and substance abuse treatment programs; providing on-going education to health and human services providers and the public through the National Viral Hepatitis Training Center and the development of educational materials and a Web site; and tracking the incidence and monitoring of trends in disease transmission through an enhanced hepatitis surveillance program.

In addition, the Viral Hepatitis Integration Project, a partnership with the NYS Department of Health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine Methadone Maintenance Treatment Project (MMTP), St. Anne's Corner of Harm Reduction, and New York Harm Reduction Educators, is a program to enhance hepatitis services for current and former injection drug users in MMTP clinics and syringe exchange programs in New York City. To assure broad access, DOH supports costs of HCV screening and treatment for individuals enrolled in New York's Medicaid program. DOH also works with other New York State agencies on HCV-related initiatives, such as the Hepatitis C Continuity Program that provides continuity of care for known HCV-infected prison inmates released to the community.

"Through these initiatives and future DOH projects, the department will continue to break the silence on the hepatitis C epidemic and ensure the health of all New Yorkers," said Dr. Daines.

There is more information about hepatitis C for both consumers and providers at the Department's Web site: http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/hepatitis/.